The "Frontline" is a Fraud

I don’t believe that our priorities are straight. 

In fact, I am accusing all of us of contradicting ourselves; and there is one particularly destructive contradiction that is ruining customer service in our organizations: We like to refer to those who directly serve our customers as the “frontline” but in all reality treat them like anything but it.

I went to the dictionary to better understand the word “frontline” as an adjective and uncovered this meaning:  “Of or relating to the most advanced or important position or activity in a field or undertaking.”

If the way most organizations treat their frontline employees is any indication of how they value the “most advanced” or “important” things, I would hate to see how they treat the things they don’t find important.

Herein lies our greatest, most destructive contradiction: We say that the frontline plays the most important role in providing a great customer experience (ICMI’s research has overwhelmingly affirmed this) but we treat dozens of other things as if they were more important. (P.S. – Your employees already know you’re doing this and it’s a major factor in why you’re struggling with low employee morale and disengagement.)

The evidence of this has been mounting for years, yet we customer service center leaders have sat aside idly addressing everything but the root cause of our problem: ourselves.

We’re our own worst enemies and there is no combination of new metrics, technologies, or hiring practices that will remedy the fact that our treatment of frontline employees is all wrong. While I agree that many organizations need a refresh on their metrics and technologies, it is time to stop looking to them as the resolution to your problems.  I want you to forget about all of those things for now and focus solely on your actions toward your frontline representatives. 

Do they have the authority to do what is necessary to resolve the customer’s issue?  Do we pay them what they are really worth? Do we cut them short on coaching and professional development? Are their tools and technologies as efficient and effective as possible?  Are we holding them accountable for things that they can actually affect?

If you answered no to any of these, maybe it’s time to start calling those who directly serve your customers something other than the frontline? The insignificant? The trivial? The second-rate?

If that seems a bit harsh, then consider it a gut check. While we would never consider actually verbalizing this about our employees, our actions are shouting it loud and clear every single day. Until we align what we say is important with what we treat as important, we will never get ahead.

Are you and your organization prepared and willing to treat your frontline employees as the most advanced or important position in your organization?  Or, are you going to continue to live in contradiction until it all self-destructs?

If you’re ready for a change, I invite you to join me at Contact Center Expo in Orlando, FL where I’ll be leading a half-day workshop “ The Power of Now: Secrets to a Successful Customer Journey”.  I will be sharing the tools and insights on how to empower today’s contact center agent in providing exceptional customer support.

Comments (2)

Leave a comment

Please sign in to leave a comment. If you don't have an account you can register for free here.

Forgot username or password?


Dr. Ahmad Tahlak — 10:03AM on Mar 30, 2015

I strongly agree with your article. I believe this is the case in all regions.

Justin Robbins — 11:21AM on Mar 31, 2015

Thank you, Ahmad. Since publishing this last week I've had multiple conversations with individuals from numerous industries (not just contact centers) in various parts of the globe and it has affirmed by belief that this is a significant, yet widely accepted, problem. The question remains: who is ready and willing to actually do something about it?